I’m 70 . . . And Still Learning What It Means to Serve

Written By Mart DeHaan

Mart DeHaan is the past president of Our Daily Bread Ministries and has served with the ministry for 45 years. He is heard regularly on the Discover the Word radio program, is an author of many booklets for the Discovery Series, and writes a monthly column on timely issues called “Been Thinking About.” He and his wife, Diane, have two children. Mart enjoys spending time outdoors, especially with a fishing pole in hand.

Dear friend,

I’m struggling to know how to begin. Maybe it’s because I still have so much to learn about what it means to tell others about anything, let alone something really important. Let me start with a story.

Of all the cartoons that have made me laugh, there’s one I remember most clearly. It pictures a man on a dinner date trying to make a good impression. As the meal comes to an end, he reaches for his credit card to pay. Feeling like it has been a wonderful evening, he takes a deep breath and says, “Hey, I’ve been talking a lot about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”

Why do I remember this punch line? Maybe it’s because I’ve passed that smile along to others from time to time. Maybe it’s also because I’m still trying to come to terms with my inclination to be overly concerned about my own interests—at the expense of others.

I’m not writing this as a young person. For more than 70 years, I’ve sat at many tables and looked into a lot of eyes. Late in the journey, I still find it so easy to forget what we’re here for and what makes the life we’ve been given worth living.

Because of this, I’m grateful for the cartoonists, authors, and community leaders who, along with family members, friends, and teachers, have helped me see that a life well-lived isn’t all about ourselves—but one in which we live for one another. I’ve had so many chances to see the wonder of a simple act of kindness, even when it is shown to a struggling plant, a frightened animal, or an unlikely person.

Most importantly, I’ve had access to the story of Jesus, who is remembered for being so patient with those of us who keep tripping over ourselves. In so many ways, He gave us reason to believe that when He asked people like us to follow Him, and even when He asked what they thought of Him—He wasn’t just thinking of Himself.

That’s why I hope you’ll never stop learning from Him and maybe just a little from the mistakes of old guys like me.

 

The Leader Who Serves Us

On the night of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering, His disciples sat around a table arguing among themselves (Luke 22:24). They thought their long-awaited Messiah was getting ready to rule the world and that some of them were more worthy than others to help Him kick Caesar to the curb and share the power.

They weren’t ready to hear Him say:

In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-27)

Imagine what it must have been like to have a seat at that table. Earlier that same evening, we would have seen Him get down on His knees, and like a house-servant wash our feet (John 13:1-17). We’d have heard Him say that, as His friends, one thing matters—to love one another as He had loved us (15:12-15).

While I don’t know for sure, I think I get a bit of why these followers and leaders-in-training were so confused. Their family and national history was full of strong leaders. Some were brutal. Some were benevolent. But all of them led from the front, from the top, and from places of enforced control and command. No wonder they were having a hard time with the upside-down-inside-out ways of Jesus.

 

The Leader Who Inspires and Empowers Us

Not only did Jesus make a name for Himself by putting our needs ahead of His own, He went one step further and asked His followers and leadership team to join Him in showing the way—to the God who is for us—in ways and to an extent they never could have imagined.

Only in looking back can we see that all that happened on that Passover, and in the miracles of Pentecost five weeks later, were meant to draw us into the action. By dying to show how much He loves us, He leads the way. By giving us the gift of his Spirit, He enables us to follow Him in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-25). This would be the kinder and gentler revolution Jesus envisioned in His manifesto of the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:1-12).

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by the stories of those who have taken the risk to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in the way they lead—not by threat or coercion, but by caring for one another.

Maybe that’s why I recall with such warmth the teacher who simply took the time to ask me what life was like for me growing up; the pastor who listened so patiently during one of the darker moments of my life; and another older Christian leader who, over lunch, took risks to let me know that he, too, has trouble with interpretations of the Bible that don’t seem to reflect the heart of a loving Father.

These self-sacrificing acts of care have given me a taste of what it must have been like for people in Jesus’ day to see themselves in His eyes. And I’ve got a hunch that there are people in your world who will benefit from seeing you as a fellow-follower and servant-leader who has come under the influence of His patience and kindness.

 

Walking in Jesus’ Spirit

Yes, I’m convinced this is the smile you have to offer. But please don’t think I’m saying if you “get it”, just “do it.” I’ve learned the hard way that the personal resolve to set aside my own self-interest for the sake of others doesn’t go very far.

I’m still learning that the kind of servant-leadership Jesus talked about doesn’t begin with a decision to follow Him into courageous actions of self-sacrifice. It isn’t just a matter of learning to make the right choices. Learning to lead by following Him begins so much deeper. As Jesus believed He was loved and led by His Father, so we need to believe His assurance that we are loved, and that we too can be led by His Spirit to care for others.

Our natural default will always be self-interest. Our normal inclination will always be to think we can do whatever we put our mind to. But what Jesus taught His disciples and what He is teaching us, is that we can’t follow Him or become His kind of influence in the world until we realize what we cannot do or change by ourselves.

Maybe that’s why Jesus let Peter and the rest of the disciples abandon Him at His arrest. Maybe that’s why, after His resurrection, He asked those same leaders-in-training to wait for His Spirit before trying to lead others to Him (Acts 1:1-9).

I still find myself being amazed at what happens when I remember to take Jesus up on His assurance that His Father (and ours) will not withhold His Holy Spirit from those who ask. I’ve never gotten over the joy of seeing or sensing what He alone can do to get me over the next hurdle of realizing that this amazing life isn’t all about me.

We began with a cartoon that pokes fun at the kind of person none of us wants to be. Maybe we can end at the other end of the smile. What would it take for us to experience the joy of giving up our own “rights” to be the kind of follower, friend, and Jesus-like influence we long to be? Let’s take the next step of following and leading—together!

– Mart

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